Group Work

Let me tell you about my friend Adam. Adam is a yogi and a teacher and a painter and writer, and his classes and practice are full of humor and earnestness and joy and power. Adam and I share common teachers, and we practice and teach at the same studio. It has this great option, I've mentioned before, of coming to explore your physical practice on Monday and Friday, and Adam and I are a couple of the regulars.

(A quick note about this: the practice, which the studio calls Tantricago, as an homage to our Tantric roots and our location, is akin to Mysore; anyone in the Ashtanga tradition will recognize the self-initiated, teacher-supported quality of studying and practicing this way. For those of us unfamiliar, it's different than a class: there is no "teacher" in the sense of someone telling you how to move your body through space; people start and end at different times, and come and go when they're ready; every person's practice looks different, from person to person, and from day to day. Quite like a led class, there's the potential for powerful community work to take place.)

Sometimes on Monday mornings, Adam and I are the only two practitioners. We're practice buddies, and although we move quite differently-- he lifts up effortlessly into handstand from virasana, my bind is strong and open in parsvakonasana-- each of us is buffeted and encouraged by the presence and practice of the other. I remember being absent one morning and he joked to me that he'd had the hardest time getting his energy moving, "burning up the kapha", he says. On days when I'm there alone, I find my practice is a little more scattered: I'm in my head worrying, or trying to do all the poses and breathe all the breaths, and I wind up fatigued.

For the record, Adam did not paint this. This is a picture of an abstract landscape I took in a building on campus at DePaul University, called Snarled and Yelping Sea. If you want to see any of Adam's work, look here. 

For the record, Adam did not paint this. This is a picture of an abstract landscape I took in a building on campus at DePaul University, called Snarled and Yelping Sea. If you want to see any of Adam's work, look here

I mention this not particularly as advertising, though it has been really powerful in a positive way for my practice and my teaching. I mention it because  I think, all kidding aside, that each of us is a help to the other in our practices. When the room begins to fill up with practitioners--other friends, colleagues, mentors, even strangers--the generosity, the growth, the healing blossoms. I feel energized, motivated, and supported when I find I'm not the only one practicing that morning, and when our numbers grow, that feeling grows. Each of us may continue to progress and integrate as individuals, even if we were all alone; but sharing that space with each other makes our work greater, richer, and at least for me, more supportive and even more healing.

Have you ever been in a shared healing space? Like community acupuncture, or a gong bath, or a communal adjustment space, a space where everyone is receiving and processing together? So often in our health communities, the work we do is individual: there's a health care provider, a client, and the often sterile and distancing environments around and between them. But community spaces aren't like this: they rely on the sharing of space and energy and breath between people. I think the idea is that the healing, the liberation, of all of us is interconnected--my healing is in part bound up in yours, as is yours in mine. We must work together so that we can lift one another up. 

Community building is challenging work. It asks you to be open, to be vulnerable, to be available, and to give. When you feel under-resourced, giving doesn't sound good, it sounds like a hassle, or even a threat. But I absolutely believe that building community is a vital part of learning. I had a dear friend and writing teacher who would say that story happens between people; growth is often the same way. It isn't always isolation and solitude that creates opportunity for our growth; as often, it's the times when we rub up against each other, when we learn things that challenge our world view, even when we find ourselves in conflict. In a culture where individualism is prized often at the cost of the collective, creating community feels imperative.

In yoga, safe space arises as a meeting of the consciousness of a teacher, the consciousness of a student, and the consciousness of an organization. Three supports. It’s rare. And it is needed for a subversive reason–-not to ensure we never feel uncomfortable, but to empower us to go to places of intense internal discomfort without external distraction... teaching is generating safe space. Lesson number one... was waking up to the relationship of trauma and privilege: it is the the charmed who have not been somehow harmed.
— Angela Jamison

In teaching spaces, in creative spaces, as often as I can, I place a premium on creating a grounded, open, fruitful context for practice and learning. Sometimes that learning is full of joy and laughter, and sometimes it allows us to touch (and to share) parts of ourselves that are dark and unknown and a little scary. It's not easy work. But I can promise you, I will bring the best of myself to whatever we're making together--whether we're growing as teachers, as yogis, as artists, as friends. I believe that your liberation is bound up in mine, and mine in yours.

So let's get to work.